We are all used to the way in which bookmarks and links stop working as websites come and go, or as organizations feel the need for a change. Is there anything that can be done to reduce link rot, especially for organizations like W3C which seek to provide persistent URIs for key documents, but this is problematic as W3C won’t be around forever.
The inability of organizations to guarantee persistence for bindings from identitifiers to resources would seem to merit work on solutions that survive beyond the life of such organizations. Another angle on this is that who is to say now which resources will be more valuable in a few decades time: an obsolete spec from a standards organisation or a poem from a personal website? This is something that is hard to be sure of in advance.
A possible solution, or at least one worthy of study, is the idea of a distributed cache of resources that isn’t dependent on any one organization. The Google cache is promising, but we have no guarantees for how long items are kept and made available, nor whether Google itself will still be around in fifty years.
A distributed cache would need sufficient redundancy to preserve copies of occasionally accessed resources. The value of a resource could perhaps be measured on how often it is accessed. Static copies of dynamically generated resources may be okay for some purposes, but it may also be worth considering how to cache services and associated metadata.
This provides hints of a next generation Web where addresses are resolved through a distributed system rather than via direct contact to the named HTTP server. This would live alongside the existing web and would be an opt in solution for individual websites. There is no need for a change of addressing scheme.
You can think of this as a mass migration to virtual websites where the hosting service defines a framework for metadata, static and dynamic resources (executable service descriptions). It would need to provide careful attention to privacy, identity, security, and perhaps payment mechanisms. The framework would be implemented in a distributed way involving multiple cooperating providers.
How would such providers be rewarded for the resources they provide? I believe that multiple mechanisms are needed and would change over time. A very popular website would consume vastly more resources than one that is accessed infrequently. There are also considerations of differences in value systems across cultures and national boundaries. So a single solution is unlikely to work, and further study is needed to better understand how to balance a healthy business model for providers with the disparate needs of users.
It is time to move on from the perennial discussions of URNs versus URLs, and to consider the kind of Web we want to leave for our descendants. Do we want persistence and open data or are we willing to embrace an era where everything is ephemeral? Is Web Science up to the challenge?